Page:A History of Mathematics (1893).djvu/85

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medes to Gelon, king of Syracuse. In it Archimedes shows that people are in error who think the sand cannot be counted, or that if it can be counted, the number cannot be expressed by arithmetical symbols. He shows that the number of grains in a heap of sand not only as large as the whole earth, but as large as the entire universe, can be arithmetically expressed. Assuming that 10,000 grains of sand suffice to make a little solid of the magnitude of a poppy-seed, and that the diameter of a poppy-seed be not smaller than part of a finger's breadth; assuming further, that the diameter of the universe (supposed to extend to the sun) be less than 10,000 diameters of the earth, and that the latter be less than 1,000,000 stadia, Archimedes finds a number which would exceed the number of grains of sand in the sphere of the universe. He goes on even further. Supposing the universe to reach out to the fixed stars, he finds that the sphere, having the distance from the earth's centre to the fixed stars for its radius, would contain a number of grains of sand less than 1000 myriads of the eighth octad. In our notation, this number would be or 1 with 63 ciphers after it. It can hardly be doubted that one object which Archimedes had in view in making this calculation was the improvement of the Greek symbolism. It is not known whether he invented some short notation by which to represent the above number or not.

We judge from fragments in the second book of Pappus that Apollonius proposed an improvement in the Greek method of writing numbers, but its nature we do not know. Thus we see that the Greeks never possessed the boon of a clear, comprehensive symbolism. The honour of giving such to the world, once for all, was reserved by the irony of fate for a nameless Indian of an unknown time, and we know not whom to thank for an invention of such importance to the general progress of intelligence.[6]